A few years ago, there was a new list of the world’s greatest children’s books, as chosen by Twitter-users. The BBC’s #LovetoRead campaign, if you’re a Twitter-user and have come across it. I’m not so I only heard about it after the fact, when someone in The Guardian complained about the Top 10.
The campaign asked this question: If you had to pick, which book do you think every child should read?
In at first place was “Harry Potter”, which, as a series, isn’t a “book”, but I suppose series tend to be treated as a single book these days. There followed, in order: The BFG; To Kill a Mockingbird; Alice in Wonderland; The Famous Five (again with the series…); The Very Hungry Caterpillar; The Wind in the Willows; The Gruffalo; The Lord of the Rings; The Bible.
I have a problem with this list. My problem is not the preponderance of classics, ignoring the wonderful, contemporary corpus of children’s literature (in any case, two out of ten isn’t bad – Potter and Gruffalo). My problem is simply that The Gruffalo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar are being put in the same list, for children, as The Lord of the Rings and To Kill a Mockingbird.
I suppose, technically, all of these books are, often, read by children, in the sense that they are minors. But the children who read (or are read) The Gruffalo are a very different age to those reading To Kill a Mockingbird (usually as a set-text for GCSE). Yes, technically both children, but also not, not really.
So I’m going to offer up my own, alternative, lists – Top Tens of books or authors for different ages of childhood, starting with the under sevens. In no particular order, simply books I remember enjoying at some point during my childhood. Which means that the most recent will probably be from the mid-90s.
Top Ten Authors or Books/Series for the Under 7s
- Janet & Allen Ahlberg. Books like: Peepo; Each, Peach, Pear, Plum; Burglar Bill; and Funnybones.
- Elmer the Patchwork Elephant by David McKee
- Old Bear and Friends by Jane Hissey
- Shirley Hughes. Books like: Dogger; Alfie (and Annie-Rose).
- Ivor the Engine by Abelard Schuman – I never knew it was a TV series too!
- The Railway Series (AKA Thomas the Tank Engine) by Rev. Wilbert Awdry
- The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear
- The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, trans. J. Alison James
- Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc. Particularly fond of Matilda, who told lies and burnt to death. And Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion.
- And, of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
These are my Top Ten for the Under 7s, being those which made such an impression on me that I only looked them up for the authors’ names.
Which are your favourite titles or authors of books for the very young? Off the top of your head, who have I forgotten? (Or am too old to have/been read?) What would you recommend for today’s child?